How to Report Identity Theft to the IRS

Follow these steps to protect yourself from present or future fraud

Identity Theft Crime at Home Computer on Internet
Getty Images/Heath Patterson

The IRS website says there are several ways you might find out you were a victim of identity theft. Chances are really good that if you were, you will discover it soon after filing your taxes. For example, the IRS may send you a letter saying you have filed more than one return, or that someone has filed a return using your information.

You may also find out by learning that you have a "balance due" or a "refund offset." Even worse, you may discover that the IRS is trying to collect from you for a year you didn't file taxes, meaning the IRS thinks you owe them money.

(If you are using a tax preparation service, they may be the ones to tell you, but you will most likely get a letter soon after that from the IRS telling you the same thing.)

Form 14039: Why and When It's Needed

Identity theft has become common enough that the IRS has a specific form to file–the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit (Form 14039)–for notifying them that you believe you are a victim of identity theft. The form may be filled out online, then printed and mailed or faxed. Information for all of this is on page 2 of Form 14039. (Depending on who printed it, this may actually be on the back of the form.) There is also a Spanish version of the form (Form 14039SP).

When sending in Form 14039, you will need to also send a photocopy of one of these documents: a valid passport, your driver's license (issued in one of the US states), your social security card, or other valid U.S. Federal or State government issued identification.

If you haven't been a victim of identity theft yet, but think that you might have to worry about that (for example if you had your Social Security card in your purse or wallet and it was recently stolen) you can still file Form 14039 to warn the IRS to flag your account for possible problems in the future.

This doesn't guarantee that you won't still have problems, but it will give you a leg-up in dealing with the situation if it does arise

More Identity Theft Protection Resources

The IRS also advises that, if you believe you may become a victim of identity theft, you should call the Identity Protection Specialized Unit (IPSU), toll-free at 1-800-908-4490. The IPSU is available 7 A.M – 7 P.M. in your local time zone. (Hawaii and Alaska follow the Pacific time zone for this.) Some of the reasons they list for suspecting you may become a victim of identity theft include a lost or stolen wallet or questionable information on your credit report. In most cases, it will be a good idea to also have a police report documenting a stolen wallet or purse.

It's unfortunate that the identity theft problem has become so prevalent that the IRS has had to create a specific group to address the issue, as well as creating Form 14039. Tax fraud based on identity theft issues has become the most widely reported form of identity theft over the past couple of years.